Primaries

State Interests in the Primary Process

I’d like to post a question that reader G-Veg sent to me regarding states and the primary process.

Cursory research suggests that the most common reason cited for states running Primaries is to avoid fraud.  This is certainly the reason cited by Progressives in Teddy Roosevelt’s time for campaign reform.  While not strictly focused on Primaries, 19th and early 20th Century Progressives made huge strides in dismantling political machines.  (Interestingly, at least in Pennsylvania and New York, primary contests have been paid for and managed by the state for as far back as I could research on line.  In Pennsylvania, for example, election officials ran primary contests at least as early as Lincoln’s election and there are records of New York City primaries for Mayor going back to 1850.)

Research suggests that we’ve been doing state paid for and managed primaries for quite some time with almost no thought as to whether there is even a legitimate state interest in the contests to begin with.  I suggest that there is no legitimate interest and that state patronage is both unconstitutional and irrational.

First, I’ll note what we all know: that we have a “Two Party System” by default, not law.  The Constitution of the United States makes no mention of the country’s political makeup or character.  That reality gives particular significance to Washington’s warnings about factionalism.

Second, the argument that State sponsorship controls fraud is, itself, a farce.  It does nothing of the kind because the “back room deals” Progressives sought to control continue to rule the process.  It seems like a well-intentioned but failed experiment.  It is an expensive one too.  In Pennsylvania, for example, a statewide election, whether primary or general, costs a touch more than $1 million (2010).

Third, even if State sponsorship controlled a host of ill effects like fraud, disputed outcomes, and mob selections of candidates, the state has no interest in contests.  So what if Party X chooses a union bullied candidate or one purchased lock, stock, and barrel by monied interests?  Party X can do what it wishes.  They can select by heredity if they want to.  As long as there is a robust general election, how candidates get on the ballot is largely irrelevant.

Fourth, state paid for and managed primaries force out of elections many millions of qualified citizens because there can never be more than two “real” parties as long as the coercive powers of the state are used to keep alternatives marginalized and disenfranchized.  Surely the state has an interest in promoting greater levels of public service among the citizenry and anything that discourages such participation should be overhauled.

For these reasons, I believe that states should stop paying for and managing primaries.  I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Personally I don’t think there’s much under the constitution that would allow the federal government to get the states out of elections, and any large-scale attempt to get the states out of the business may only enhance the power of the two-party system.  But I’d like to hear thoughts on this.

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